Europe Bullies Africa

Can you imagine the outcry if this was how the U.S. negotiated its trade deals?

By the end of this year, 76 of the world’s poorest countries – across Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific – are supposed to sign free trade deals called Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) with the EU.

They are being asked to get rid of up to 80% of their tariffs against imports from the (European Union) over the course of as little as 10 years. If they don’t agree to sign up by December 31, then they may face the threat of higher tariffs on their exports to the EU – which is something they could simply not afford. However, with just 12 weeks left, the talks are still stalled in many areas. A serious crunch is looming.

In short, the lives and livelihoods of three-quarters of a billion people are at stake. But far too few people have even heard about Economic Partnership Agreements. For some reason, it’s just not a news story. But we have to make it one – and soon.

The European Commission still insists that everything is just fine. It sticks to its line that none of the countries has lodged an official complaint nor asked formally for alternatives to EPAs.

But as the deadline looms, there are signs that all is not well. A report earlier this year from the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa was clear that there has been too much focus on a rigid timetable for liberalisation and too little on the needs of developing countries.

While the EU is right to emphasise the importance of integrating African countries in the global economy, EPAs in their current form are the wrong way to achieve this.

Some countries complain that they are being put under pressure to negotiate on the commission’s terms and they are particularly concerned that the commission has failed to give time for proper impact assessments, and has dismissed their concerns.

The author of this column, Fiona Hall, is a Liberal Democrat member of the European Parliament from England. Hall goes on to argue that the EU should take the threat of higher tariffs off the table.

Hall writes the forward to a more detailed paper about the Economic Partnership Agreements here. The paper was commissioned by Open Europe, a business-affiliated think tank that

…believes that the EU must now embrace radical reform based on economic liberalisation, a looser and more flexible structure, and greater transparency and accountability….

The proposed agreements with African, Caribbean and Pacific countries are meant to replace agreements the WTO ruled illegal in 1996. A waiver was granted, but it expires at the end of this year.

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